By Eve Sinton • Fossil Fool Bulletin, 4 October 2019
After a lengthy investigation, the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has found the capture of surface water at Maules Creek coal mine by Whitehaven is unlawful.
Lock the Gate Alliance submitted a detailed complaint last year alleging that Maules Creek coal had not obtained water licences for the large amount of surface water it was capturing and using to run the mine.
The regulator issued a statement saying, “NRAR finds the mine does not have sufficient entitlements on its water access licences for the take at the mine site and does not fall within a licence exemption under the Water Management Act 2000.
“NRAR met with representatives of the mine and delivered the preliminary findings for comment. NRAR is reviewing its regulatory options including accepting a proposal for an enforceable undertaking or taking criminal or civil proceedings.
Mine told to install water meters
“Maules Creek Coal Mine has been issued with a draft direction requiring installation of meters at key locations within the mine. Current and future surface water access licences are also being reviewed to ensure the monitoring program is able to accurately account for surface water taken on site.”
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Carmel Flint said, “This confirms our worst fears that Whitehaven has no valid legal grounds to be taking billions of litres of water a year without water licences.
“We want to see strong action taken now by the Natural Resources Access Regulator to prosecute Whitehaven for these serious breaches.
“It’s crucial the company feels the full force of the law to make sure this appalling practice is stopped and a message sent to the mining industry that it is not above the law.
“As the drought bites hard, it is an absolute scandal that Whitehaven has been taking water without a licence to do so and we’re calling on the Water Minister and Deputy Premier to ensure there is swift action to address this breach and get the mining industry under control.
Call for industry-wide audit
“This serious breach of the law by Maules Creek may be the thin edge of the wedge. Numerous other mines in NSW may be using the same approach to dodge water licensing laws and there needs to be an immediate audit of the issue across the industry,” she said.
Maules Creek farmer Sally Hunter said, “As farmers we are struggling with a devastating drought and we are gob-smacked to learn that the Maules Creek coal mine has been capturing vast quantities of water for years without holding the relevant water licences.
“It seems that mining companies are intercepting large volumes of surface water entirely outside the water planning system. That is water that should go to recharging our aquifers and running into our creeks and rivers. It’s an outrageous double-standard.
“The farming community has accepted very large reductions in water allocations over the last decade so we are floored to learn that big mining has come in and dodged the rules.
“That means that there is far less water running into our creeks and rivers and there is no accountability for the role mining giants like Whitehaven are playing in drying out our landscape.”